Four Aspects of Error

The concept of error is principal to Advaita Vedanta. Error is undersood as the root of the problem of samsara. Perceiving a rope as snake or shell as silver are standard examples of error in Vedantic discussion. The error that causes samsara is in the form of mistaking non-self to self and vice versa. There are various words used in the Vedanta texts which refer to different aspects of error. We shall now discuss four main words referring to error as explained by Sri Akhandananda Muni in his detailed gloss on Panchapadika-vivaranam.

  1. Avidya

The word avidya generally refers to ajnana (ignorance) which is the cause of error. Sometime error is referred to as avidya. Sri Akhandananda Muni explains the term avidya as “ज्ञानापनोद्यत्वम् अविद्यात्वम्.” Error is called avidya because it is removed by knowledge. Avidya means ‘opposite of knowledge (विरोधार्थे नञ्).Knowledge is the only means to dispel error.

  1. Bhranti or Bhrama

प्रतिभासमात्रशरीरत्त्वं भ्रान्तिता That which has only appearance as its nature is called Bhranti. The word ‘only’ signifies it does not have reality. The silver perceived on a shell has only appearance without reality. Similarly, the identifications like “I am the body” etc. don’t have reality. Therefore, they deserve to be refered to as Bhranti orBhrama.

  1. Mithya

सदसद्विलक्षणत्त्वं मिथ्यात्वम् Mithya is that which is neither absolutely existing nor absolutely non-existent in nature. The word mithya refers to the status of existence of an object. Certain imaginary objects are absolutely non-existent (asat). A standard example for such objects is a rabbit’s horn. The Brahman is absolute existence (sat). That which is neither sat norasat is called mithya.

  1. Adhyasa

सत्यानृतमिथुनीकरणात्मकत्त्वम् अद्ध्यासत्त्वम् Mixing up of real (satya) and and unreal (mithya, also known as anrta) is called Adhyasa. The atma is satyaand anatma is mithya or anrta. They are mixed up in the universally deceiving adhyasa.